Skin cancer survivors praise Lancaster research cash boost

Dr Sarah Allison will play a key role in the university research.
Dr Sarah Allison will play a key role in the university research.

Skin cancer survivors have hailed a half-million pound cash boost which will put Lancaster at the centre of the fight against the disease.

Lancaster University will be given £454,000 on top of £2.5m already invested to turn the uni into a centre of excellence for cancer research.

The money will come from charity North West Cancer Research to target skin cancer and experts in the field will front the project.

Carolanne Butler and Findlay Martin, both from Lancaster and who both survived skin cancer, welcomed the news.

Miss Butler, 53, developed the disease seven years ago after she noticed a patch of skin on her upper chest was changing its appearance.

She went to her GP who immediately recognised it as a skin cancer growth.

“I had ignored it for quite sometime, thinking it was nothing,” she said.

“When it began to itch and become bigger I was told by my mum - I was 46 at the time - that it was about time I got it checked out and I am very glad I did.

“I was lucky, I had a diagnosis of Sqamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC), not a Melanoma, but if left it can be very disfiguring and even deadly if allowed to grow.

“I had two minor surgeries and the SCC was totally removed and I am now much more careful with my total sun block.

“We are very fortunate in the care we have locally and additional research into skin cancer will increase the care we are all able to access.”​

Mr Martin, 47, was diagnosed with skin cancer in August 2013 after what he believed was a routine excision on a lump on his sternum.

Doctors were reluctant to remove it at first, telling him that it would be a cosmetic procedure and outside the NHS’ remit.

“It was only when I finally convinced the doctors that the lump was growing that they reluctantly agreed to remove it,” said Mr Martin.

“If I hadn’t been so persistent, the excision would not have happened and I would never have known that I had skin cancer. This is not quite as troubling as it might appear because I was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a mild form of skin cancer, from what I understand. It was unlikely to be fatal.”

He then had a second, more extensive operation on his sternum at Royal Preston Hospital in November 2013 and had 20 radiotherapy sessions six months later at Rosemere Cancer Centre, also in Preston. He continues to receive check-ups every four months.

“The hope is that the increased funding will enable Lancaster University to discover ways to treat and defeat more forms of cancer,” he said.

“I was lucky. What I had was easily treatable. Many other people are not so fortunate.”

The money, to be awarded over the next three years, will support two research projects designed to further understanding of skin cancer and support future advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment.

One project will look at the human immune system and how it is alerted to DNA damage in skin cells.

The first North West Cancer Research funded project will look at the human immune system and how it is alerted to DNA damage in skin cells. It will be led by Dr Leonie Unterholzner.

The second will tackle melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer.

It will be led by Dr Richard Mort and Dr Sarah Allinson.

Dr Mort said: “Over the past 40 years we have seen melanoma diagnosis increase substantially, seven-fold in men and four-fold in women.

“Here at Lancaster we have led on several research projects which have helped advance the understanding of skin cancer, but there still remains a lack of knowledge on the earliest stages of these types of cancers.”

Dr Allinson added: “Thanks to funding from North West Cancer Research we will be able to investigate these early events. Our outcomes will be used to inform future projects to better diagnose the disease and develop more effective treatment methods for patients.

“Lancaster University is quickly becoming a centre of excellence for cancer research. Skin cancer is a developing focus for us, especially when viewed against the backdrop of increasingly high rates of the disease in the region. We are grateful for the charity’s continued support as the team here develops its understanding of cancer.”

Funding from North West Cancer Research has already improved the understanding of other forms of cancer such as leukaemia and prostate cancers. Its continued commitment has generated funding for basic, translational and clinical research, supporting clinicians, doctors, researchers and students.

In July, the charity became the first organisation to be inducted into Lancaster University’s Chancellor’s College of Benefactors in recognition of its multi-million-pound funding support.